Venue: The Sportsground, 7.30pm.
Referee: Neil Hennessy
Connacht welcomes Italian side Treviso to the Sportsground this Friday night in the RaboDirect PRO 12, as they look to bounce back from seven straight defeats in all competitions.
Despite a poor run of form the West province can count themselves unlucky in defeats to Edinburgh and the Cardiff Blues. They gave more than a scare to English side Harlequins in the Heineken Cup but didn’t perform away to Ulster and were totally outclassed against Toulouse.
Treviso are having quiet a season winning twice on the road this season to Glasgow and, recorded a shock win at Ulster in the RaboDirect PRO 12 league. Previous to this they had only won once away from home in the history of the competition. The win against the Warriors started a four-game unbeaten run, taking the scalps of two Welsh sides Scarlets and Dragons along the way.
The winning streak was abruptly halted by a home defeat to Edinburgh and a phenomenal opening 40 minutes of rugby from Leinster put the Italian minnows to the sword last week.
This rich vein of form now sees the Italians lie in seventh place in the table, four points clear of Connacht.
Whereas Connacht’s debut in the Heineken Cup was an anti-climax, Treviso had an agonising 26-26 draw at home to Ospreys.
A game they should have won, when leading right up until the last minute, were denied a famous win due to a late Ospreys penalty.
This shows the ‘whipping-boy’ tag is slowly being eroded away by South African coach Franco Smith.
Mike McCarthy serves his second of a two week ban as Mike Swift returns to the second row. Frank Murphy and Niall O’Connor make for a changed half-back pairing while Ray Ofisa makes his 100th cap. Kyle Tonetti makes his debut for Connacht at out-side centre and Mark McCrea starts on the wing.
The Irish province has won four out of their last five encounters with Italian opposition and defeated Treviso in the opening round of this season’s league 11-9 on a scorching hot day at the Stadio Monigo.
Make no bones about it, this is a must win game for Connacht for reasons more obvious than you think. A win is paramount if they are to remain in contention for a mid-table finish but a more potential, worrying trend is the fall-off in supporter numbers if things on the pitch start to go awry.
Injuries and suspensions to key players are not helping but talk is cheap and results are badly needed to keep pace with the perpetual hype around the city and province.
Verdict: Connacht by 2-5 points.
(15-9)Gavin Duffy (c); Mark McCrea, Dave McSharry, Kyle Tonetti, Tiernan O’Halloran; Niall O’ Connor, Frank Murphy;
(1-8)Brett Wilkinson, Ethienne Reynecke, Ronan Loughney, Mike Swift, George Naoupu; Dave Gannon, John Muldoon, Ray Ofisa.
Replacements:16 Adrian Flavin, 17 Dennis Buckley, 18 Rodney Ah You, 19 Mick Kearney, 20 Eoghan Grace, 21 Paul O’Donohoe, 22 Matthew Jarvis, 23 Fetu’u Vainikolo